Your crusty chronicler is an individual who generally does his own thing. Still, when Examiner asked for support for their new “List” format, it was nigh impossible not to be open-minded about it. So, with the spirit of teamwork and unity in mind, your rockin’ reviewer presents this series—“Track by Track” in which we review certain select CDs literally “track by track”.
The Looking, also known as operatically-trained Todd Carter, newest release, Songs for a Traveler, is a twelve-track disc of indie alternative music that spans both the decades and genres. Carter (acoustic guitar, vocals and production) is backed by several select performers including: Bill Finizio (guitar, keys and vocals), John Andrews (guitar), Dan Rieser (drums), Adam Kromelow (piano, B3 and “wurli”), Gerald Menke (pedal steel and dobro), Chris Morrissey (bass), Sasha Dobson (vocals), Ernesto Villa-Lobos (violin) and Rubin Kodheli (cello).
Read through the list as we review this release.
“All the Pretty Little Horses”
The album opener is a cover version of the song “All the Pretty Little Horses”. This one was co-arranged by Carter and Finizio. More specifically, this is a lullaby made famous by Odetta. “I kept hearing an upbeat drum part under the basic melody.” The originality of this version really comes from the intensity of the drums, the guitar parts and the vocal delivery.
The second selection here is titled “900 Miles”. The arrangement of this song was a collaborative effort between Carter, Finizio and Adam Kromelow. Carter comments: “The second song, ‘900 Miles,’ was challenging because there are some incredible versions of that song out there.” (No worries, Carter, it works well enough.)
“River in the Pines”
“River in the Pines” follows. This one has a musical duality to it. Carter confirms this: “There’s a familiar sound in the guitars that’s comforting, and a psychedelic presence” in the song. He elaborates: “It’s reminiscent of pop, even though it’s an old 19th century Wisconsin logger song.,” Perhaps part of what makes it somehow familiar is what he calls an “REM-esque guitar lick that became the opening of the song.”
“Black is the Color” and “Sail Around”
“Black is the Color” is an American folk song from the Appalachian Mountains. It may actually have its origins from somewhere in the Scottish highlands. The arrangement is the product of collaboration between Carter and Kromelow.
It is followed by “Sail Around”. This, too, was arranged by both Carter and Kromelow. The original from which this is adapted is a 19th century song from the American Plains area.
Carter comments on how the song was produced. “The vocal (here) is completely live. That’s what we got out of the studio from the whole band jamming through it. The chemistry and the alchemy of us being together is truly what makes it work.”
“Ol’ Man River” and “Hobo´s Meditation”
The sixth selection here is an updated, original cover of Kern and Hammerstein’s classic cut “Ol’ Man River”. This and the next number, an adaptation of “Hobo´s Meditation” by Jimmie Rodgers, are both interesting choices to add to this generally clever compilation of covers that are both stand alone tracks as well as part of a tuneful tale of a traveler.
“Wayfaring Stranger” is yet another individualistic take on a song that other artists have previously performed. Carter comments: “’Wayfaring Stranger’ has been made famous by so many people, but I think we did it justice.” (Indeed, you have, Carter, indeed you have. The mix of early influences is readily apparent on this and other pieces on this disc.)
“Blue River” and “Angel of Death”
The Looking next focuses on “Blue River”. This is the band’s own version of a song written by Joseph Meyer and Alfred Bryan. It is perhaps a bit all too quickly overshadowed by the interesting inclusion of the band’s take on a lesser known Hank Williams’ work “Angel of Death”.
“Long Black Veil”
The song “Long Black Veil” by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin was a pleasantly surprising choice from the 1950s. This, too, has been covered by several other artists in the past including The Chieftains, Sting and Mick Jagger. Still, The Looking has managed to make it their own here.
Carter notes that it is “a little more rocking than people are used to.” He also notes that their cover “loses a bit of the sadness at the heart of the song” explaining that they “wanted to make (their) version distinct.” Carter adds: “There is there’s some happiness to be found in the story of death in this song, a sweet kind of release in knowing that this woman is still crying for him.”
Carter confesses: “It’s one of my favorite songs on the record and it was born during a rehearsal. I knew the chord progression and I knew the harmony, but it was just jamming with the guys that took it where the song wanted to go. You may notice that the drummer never plays a crash cymbal, staying instead on the hi-hat the whole time, resulting in a beautiful grounding.”
“Once I had a Sweetheart”
The closing cut is a cover of “Once I had a Sweetheart”. This one is an American traditional. It features an arrangement by Carter, Finizio and Kromelow. It serves as an adequate end-note to a musically rich and almost dreamy disc that includes assorted obvious influences. The choices are often unexpected and yet no matter what one may initially think; in the end each cut bears the band’s distinct signature sound.
Some thought was even put into the playlist order as well. Carter comments: “The arrangement of the song list is organic in terms of intensity and feel, with each song seductively moving into the next.” When it comes to the overall album, Carter states that it is “more of a complete document instead of each song being an individual journey.” Indeed, music fans might do well to check out The Looking’s Songs for a Traveler and experience the tuneful travels of a “Wayfaring Stranger”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.